Oscar Guide 2011: Best Music (Original Score)

(The Oscar Guide will be your chaperone through the Academy’s 24 categories awarding excellence in film. A new installment will hit every weekday in the run-up to the Oscars on February 26, with the Best Picture finale on Saturday, February 25.)

While the music branch”s choices (or lack thereof) in Best Original Song could be considered shocking, the opposite was true about their final five in Best Original Score. Three of the titles are Best Picture nominees, the branch”s favorite composer of all time is double-nominated yet again and all but one of the finalists have been nominated previously. Moreover, that newcomer worked on the Best Picture frontrunner. These are hardly surprising statistics.

The only film that could reasonably be considered “snubbed” was “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” as last year”s winners Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross were unable to return despite BFCA, Golden Globe and BAFTA nominations. Even so, they produce the sort of music the branch normally does not go for, so even that is not shocking. Ten of the last 11 winners in this category, meanwhile, have been Best Picture nominees, including the last eight. I fully expect that trend to continue this year and I am reasonably confident in which of the three will triumph, though the other two cannot be completely discounted.

The nominees are…

“The Adventures of Tintin” (John Williams)

“The Artist” (Ludovic Bource)

“Hugo” (Howard Shore)

“Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy” (Alberto Iglesias)

“War Horse” (John Williams)

I was sorry to see Reznor and Ross come up short this year – the scores they produce are quite refreshing. I also felt Dario Marianelli”s luscious compositions for “Jane Eyre” were exactly what the film needed: mood-capturing, elegant and never overwhelming. Abel Korzeniowski”s music for “W.E.” could not save the images Madonna gave him to work with. That said, I doubt any composer could have salvaged that effort and it sure was beautiful to listen to on its own. Lastly, even though he removed himself from the Oscar race, Hans Zimmer”s score for “Rango” was among the best aspects of that film.

It should not be surprising that the Academy managed to find a home for John Williams twice this year. After a six-year absence, he managed his 46th and 47th career nominations, the most ever for a composer (breaking a tie with Alfred Newman) and the second most overall (behind Walt Disney). His nomination for “The Adventures of Tintin” was the only place the film found a home, with the sound branch passing it over and the animators continuing to show prejudice against performance capture. I feel this is the better of Williams”s two scores this year – lively, joyous and suspenseful – but it has no chance to win when he”s also in the running for a Best Picture nominee where the music is even more prominent.

Ludovic Bource was the sole newcomer cited by this most insular of all Academy branches. Given that the score is present in virtually every scene of Best Picture frontrunner “The Artist,” the branch had little choice but to nominate him. I did not think the score was *that* accomplished or memorable, but still found it effective and appropriate for the film, fitting the mood and paying homage to the scores of silent films. Considering the omnipresent nature of the music, its BFCA and Golden Globe victories and the film”s likely wins in the major categories, including Best Picture, I would say Bource is looking good for the win here.

Howard Shore finally managed to be nominated for a non-“Lord of the Rings” effort with his vibrant score for “Hugo.” Virtually everyone remembers the music fondly. I suppose a win is not out of the question, given how much the film is liked, to say nothing of the memorable nature of the work. Plus, Shore has a 100% win-per-nomination record to date, winning Best Original Score for “The Fellowship of the Ring” and Best Original Score and Best Original Song for “The Return of the King!”  However, I still feel “The Artist,” being more liked as a film and more reliant on its score, has a significant edge.

The only nominee I failed to predict in this category (though he was my first alternate) was Alberto Iglesias for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.” However, I was absolutely delighted to be wrong. Iglesias”s third career nomination (after “The Constant Gardener” and “The Kite Runner”) combined musical cultures in a tremendously refreshing way, while also being pitch-perfect for the mood of the film. If I had a ballot, there is no doubt that I”d being voting for him. He also did fine work this year on “The Skin I Live In.” Alas, he seems well behind the Best Picture nominees in the race for the win.

In his Best Original Screenplay analysis, Guy already made an apt comparison between the records of Meryl Streep and Woody Allen. Like Streep and Allen, John Williams has received the most nominations of all time from his branch, and over a dozen music nominations since his last win (16, to be exact). And like Streep and Allen, he is in the running again this year and might just be able to triumph. While I believe the score for “War Horse” was too overbearing, there is no doubt it was memorable. It has earned nominations even where the film disappointed. The film is also obviously liked enough, having garnered several Oscar nods in the face of guild snubs. Plus, some people surely must want to see Williams win again. Even so, I feel that he’ll need something more memorable, on a more respected film, to actually earn Oscar #6. In any event, I do wish Williams a very happy 80th birthday, which he will be celebrating tomorrow. (And not to go there, but his nomination next season for “Lincoln” is, in my view, the surest thing in any category from this vantage point.)

Will Win: “The Artist”

Could Win: “War Horse”

Should Win: “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”

Should Have Been Here: “Jane Eyre”

Keep track of our current rankings in the Best Original Score category via its Contenders page here.

What do you think should be taking home this gold in this category? Who got robbed? Speak up in the comments section below!

(Read previous installments of the Oscar Guide here.)

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